Is feeding to sleep a good idea?
Have you ever heard the saying sleep when your baby sleeps?
Well when your little one is born, sometimes all logic goes out the window and you ignore all advise to “sleep” and instead cuddle, or take photos for the gram. Or, eventually madness will take over and you will feel the need to become… domesticated. Not all babies are the same and SOME struggle to transition into the next sleep cycle. Meaning you only have 30-45 mins to choose between eating, sleeping, showering, or doing those tasks that even Martha Steward would be proud of.
Feeding to sleep is one of the most common ways to get a newborn to sleep. Newborns awake window averages about an hour, with the combination of feeding and cuddling its a very natural habit. Unfortunately its not the best way to set your baby up for a “good” nights sleep.
With older babies feeding to sleep can continue and quickly become a bad habit. As baby feeds to sleep they cannot learn to fall asleep independently. This means overtime they will want to be fed to sleep every time they wake up. This can be especially hard when they are waking 4-6x a night.
Another impact of feeding to sleep can be catnapping. Catnapping or a short nap is when a baby sleeps one sleep cycle or less (20-40 minutes). Though developmentally normal, this can be extremely frustrating for tired parents. One of the main reasons babies have short naps is due to their difficulty of transiting between sleep cycles. Babies who are fed to sleep are more prone to catnapping because when they wake from their first sleep cycle they often look for the thing that helped them fall sleep.
Imagine falling alseep in your bed and waking up on your neighbours couch. You are going to wake up slightly confused and have a bit of difficulty falling back to sleep in a different place.
For babies under 5 months
Because newborns circadian rhythm haven’t been established, in the early days it is nearly impossible for your newborn to not doze off during feeding. If your baby is not fully awake he or she might not get a full feeding. If he is not getting a full feed he is going to wake up more often for a series of “small feeds” or snacking. And thus begins a vicious cycle.
There are many way to try and keep your little one awake during feeds. Try and change your baby’s diaper before feeding, then again when switching breasts or if bottle feeding, half way through the bottle. You can also strip your baby down to just their diaper and place your baby directly on your skin. Play with their feet and tickle the their toes. Get creative as it important for your baby to get a full feed. A good sign your baby is full is if he pulls his head away and closes his mouth tightly.
That said, it is still important to instil good sleep habits from the beginning by trying to place your baby down awake or drowsy. If your happy with frequent night waking and what works for you then course its fine to feed your baby to sleep.
Have you heard of the four month sleep regression? Well it hit my house hard. To sum up, your babies sleep patterns mature and they wake up often during the night. Techniques from Happiest baby; the 5 S’s or taking Cara babies S.I.T.B.A.C.K method can be helpful during this transition. If your feeding to sleep at this point it is a good idea to start feeding your baby when he wakes up from a nap rather when he’s going to sleep.
For babies over 5 months
Babies 5 months and over now will wake FULLY between sleep cycles, these sleep cycles typically last 60-120 minutes during the night. That is 4-6 wakings per night. In order to “sleep though” your baby will need to be able to resettle themselves between each mini “wake up.” If your baby was fed to sleep at bedtime your baby will expect to be fed to sleep after each waking.
Weather your baby is four months, six months, or eight months its not to late to break the habit of feeding to sleep. Start at bed time, don’t make nursing the last step and make sure you baby stays awake for a full feed.
The book “The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems” by Tracy Hogg and Melinda Balu talks about implementing a routine know as easy. When my daughter had unexplained fussiness I would shove my boob in her face assuming she was hungry and needed to be fed. I started the vicious cycle of feeding to sleep and when the four month sleep regression hit I was so sleep deprived not even coffee could wake me. Once I started using the EASY routine I was able to break the habit and create a new cycle so both baby and I could sleep.
I have a whole blog post written on the E.A.S.Y Routine HERE